Why Influencer Marketing is the Only Marketing Start-Ups Can Afford



Start-ups face the harsh reality that things won’t turn out as planned, as 90% of them fail. And the top two reasons cited point to a lack of market need and poor cash management.

In retrospect, as a start-up at the height of the biggest economic downturn, how did we not only survive, but pave the way for a new category in SA?

The answer is, we ‘drank our own champagne.’ We used Influencer Marketing (IM) to dominate the discussions in the category of Influencer Marketing (pretty meta, huh?) And it’s the underlying foundation of our company philosophy, not only do we sell IM as a key tactic that every company should employ, but it is the primary component of our marketing strategy.

Leveraging Influencer Marketing as a Primary Lead Source

While we used influencer marketing to help refine our concepts of IM, it was actually the only marketing resource available to us: why? Operating on a less-than-lean budget (remember, most start-ups fail because they run out of cash), we had to think pragmatically. Here are three reasons Influencer Marketing was the only way to stake our claim as the new, leading market player:

Influencer Marketing helped us to drive early-stage adoption by building relationships with the people trusted by our customers

Even if you have the money, in order to drive adoption when you are in the early days of a market category, the best model you can adopt is to have the support of key players (influencers) that customers turn to for their opinion on what works and what doesn’t, what’s cool and what isn’t. Ideally this helps you drive organic engagement, leveraging your ‘fans’ in the best way possible.

As Malcolm Gladwell illustrated this concept in great detail with his book, The Tipping Point; In chapter one he discusses the reemergence of the Hush Puppy brand and how Fashion Influencers drove the resurgence of the brand. The book is a great primer on the concepts associated with Influencer Marketing.

Insights gleaned from influencers helped us to vet our go-to-market strategy and content strategy

As a start-up, you need to manage all risks to your product, finances, customers, and the market. It sounds simple, but can you explain what your product is, the problem it solves, and why it’s worth an investment? By building relationships with influential people–and learning from them– you can gain valuable insights to shape your go-to-market messaging and content strategy. For example, here’s how a brand, Orange France, launched a new product in a brand new sector, leveraging the power of IM.

Without a comfortable marketing budget, we had to forgo traditional forms of marketing

You don’t have the resources to do any kind of digital marketing unless someone has given you lots of money, right?

Start-ups must run lean, and as such, you don’t have the ability to buy keywords, pursue retargeting strategies, rely on paid endorsements, or confidently bet on targeted ad campaigns. You can’t rely on “traditional” marketing, expecting to prove your ROI a few quarters later. If you can’t conserve your dollars as a start-up, your company won’t survive very long, let alone actually lead your category.


Influencer Marketing done right includes a strategy focused on relationships

At Lokal Link, our IM strategy is focused on building authentic relationships. Lokal Link is doing this with relatively small amounts of capital, i.e. we have been highly capital efficient which has translated into significant retained ownership by the founding team and therefore control over our own destiny.

To scale our efforts, we followed many of the same tactics that Tesla has employed as I recently explained in this blog post. We create a personal connection to the brand – we don’t have Elon Musk, but we have an enthusiastic team who are well respected in the market who drive dialog via posts/tweets/presentations at various events. And in order to make this happen on a large scale, we integrate team members outside of the marketing team to make a bigger impact. By leveraging our internal team of advocates, we are able to engage, interact, and scale our relationships with influencers at a much quicker rate.

And I’m not saying you need an agency to kick start Influencer Marketing (though you will to scale your program). You just need the skill set to do it right. All you need to do is find the most influential people, connect with them to create mutually beneficial relationships, and measure the impact on your brand. And do it at scale.  

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